6 Steps to Six Sigma Implementation

What is Six Sigma?

Sigma is a statistical measure of variability, typically in a given process. In manufacturing, for instance, it could be used to measure the number of sub standard products. In a service industry, it could quantify delays in delivery or other procedures.

Variation is the cause of defects and out of control processes. And defects that reach the customer are significant problems. When a company has achieved a six sigma rate of improvement, it has limited defects to 3.4 per million opportunities — virtual defect free performance. Leading global companies have attained six sigma; most companies, however, are operating at levels of around four sigma, or approximately 6,000 defects per million, according to estimates. This is where the American Society for Quality can help.

The small company and Six Sigma

Knowing that the most prominent and successful Six Sigma initiatives belong to enormous organizations, what are smaller companies to think of their chances for implementation? When all Six Sigma discussion seems to center on corporations like GE, Sony, Kodak, and Motorola all multinational household names how can smaller, less famous companies compete?

The resources available to smaller companies may be limited, but some of their problems are also proportionally smaller. Large corporations typically report that they face difficulties in securing buy in from top management, unifying and changing company culture in one direction, and establishing the internal communications channels that Six Sigma requires.

Six Steps to Six Sigma Implementation

Quality is something that must be practiced at all levels of the organization, from the CEO to the shop floor. To ensure that quality towards Six Sigma is maintained, management must learn to sustain the level of intensity at all times. When motivated and properly trained employees adhere to six steps, a common vision will exist. These six fundamental steps must be achieved before Six Sigma can become a reality within any organization.

  1. Identify the product or service provided to the customer. The way the Information Services department views an issue, such as the number of lines of code needed to create a new application, is meaningless to an end user who is worried about how to fill out an invoice properly. The product is a user-friendly invoicing system, not a coded program.
  2. Identify the customers and what they consider important. This helps determine specific customer requirements; any failure to meet the requirements is a defect. It also determines essential elements that are paramount to each individual customer.
  3. Identify what you need to provide in your product or service so that it satisfies customers. Once the customers' needs have been defined, employees must determine the resources necessary in terms of funding, planning time, and expertise, thus addressing needs to ensure complete satisfaction.
  4. Define the process for doing the work. This analysis should be taken down to the task level. The people who will ultimately perform the jobs should have empowerment to define and improve the process to achieve quality objectives.
  5. Mistake proof the process and eliminate wasted effort:
    • Identify the potential errors that may occur at each step of the task and lower the probability that those errors will occur. Methods include simplifying tasks, design of experiments, training to eliminate specific errors and standardization procedures.
    • Eliminate wasted effort. If a new product can incorporate a part of a design that already exists, then the original design should incorporate the existing part if it is appropriate. In manufacturing, for example, a team of, engineering, manufacturing and design staff might find a way to take a 50 step process down to 25 steps, thus eliminating opportunities for errors.
  6. Ensure continuous improvement by measuring, analyzing, controlling, and refining the variability of the process to Six Sigma performance levels. Formulate and publicize actual performance versus goals for defects and tie them into a bonus structure.

These six steps result in clear improvement because they require identifying and treating defects in the design stage. Rather than making adjustments after the fact, defects are eliminated at the source.

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